Audio tour tells waterway’s tale by cell, MP3, computer

April 16, 2010

By Kellie Patrick Gates
For PlanPhilly

Want to get to know the Delaware River better? Thanks to a new, free audio tour, all you need is your cell phone or MP3 player, and your feet, bike, car or boat.

In a pinch – or in a thunderstorm – the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s RiverTalk tour can even be taken from your couch, on the computer.  To download the tour or take it online, go here.

At Friday’s media launch of the tour, Joan Reilly, senior director of PHS’s Philadelphia Green program, said the river tour is a natural fit with the city’s attempts to reconnect Philadelphians with the waterfront. PHS has hosted many public input meetings that have helped to create the Civic Vision for the Central Delaware. And the agency has continued to host public forums related to points along the stretch from Oregon to Allegheny avenues, including forums on the future of Penn Treaty Park, Race Street Pier and Pier 53.

So how does a cell phone tour fit in? “Our work requires stewards, champions and investors,” Reilly explained. “But people can’t care about things that they can’t name.”

The tour is a way to educate and interest people in the Delaware, she said.

The short stories told along the way teach tour-takers about the city’s maritime industries and its wildlife. They talk about things that are long gone – such as islands blown apart to make room for shipping – and things that aren’t there yet – like the Race Street Pier, a park being fashioned from the remains of Pier 11.

The tour was under construction for more than a year, Reilly said, and among the hardest parts was choosing what stories to tell. There are 20 stops on the tour, from the Tioga Marine Terminal south to the Navy Yard.

The voice you’ll hear if you take the tour belongs to a man who has himself become somewhat of a local legend. Longtime Fishtown resident and actor Joe Walker, 85, is the co-host of “breakfast at Sulimay’s,” a web video series about modern music that has been featured on National Public Radio and in Philadelphia Weekly.

At Friday’s tour launch, Walker said he was honored to be part of the RiverTalk tour, as the river has been important to him for a long time. He shared a favorite river memory that is not featured on the tour. When it was girls’ day at the public pool, he and his pals would head to the river at Spring Garden Street, to a place they called B.A.B. One of them had to stay out of the water to watch for the police, as B.A.B. stands for Bare Ass Beach.

After the introduction, everyone piled onto Captain Gary’s Duck Boat for a sampling of the tour. You can see what we saw by clicking on the videos below. Note that the ride went roughly from Penn Treaty Park to Penn’s Landing and back, but Adrienne Simpson, PHS marketing coordinator, read some stories from points along the entire tour. So sometimes, the visuals don’t perfectly match the discussion.

Along the way, Reilly also talks about some on-going riverfront projects, including the parks that are set to be built at Race Street Pier and Pier 53.

RiverTalk was paid for with funding from the Take Me to the River grant program, administered by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission with funding from the William Penn Foundation.

PHS hopes to get the word about the tour circulating so that local residents know to get their audio or print brochure downloads of the tour on-line. But hard copies of the brochure, which includes a map of the stops and the phone number to call along the route, will also be placed at locations around the city frequented by visitors, and will be available at local festivals and events.

RiverTalk Race Street Pier

The Duck

Pier 53

The working port

Petty’s Island

Wildlife and recreation

Penn Treaty Park

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